Art seen: November 26

Agaricus Muscarius, by Maria Wansink
Agaricus Muscarius, by Maria Wansink
"Botanical Art and Illustration Exhibition”,

various artists

(Olveston)

ON the way to view The Botanical Art and Illustration Exhibition in the Drying Room at Olveston Historic Home, the visitor has the opportunity to walk around the right side of the Home (and art museum), through the gardens, before entering the room historically reserved for drying laundry, which is at the back of Olveston. The stroll through the gardens is a fitting prelude to the exhibition of botanical drawings by 15 local artists. As with the physical garden, the drawings feature a range of exotic and native plants, with the exhibition including plants and flowers such as griselinia, peony, delphinium, tiger lily, puriri, flax, mushrooms (not strictly plants), and fruit: lemon and mandarin.

In keeping with the tradition of botanical illustration, focus is attuned to the plant or flower isolated from its surrounding habitat. Some of the 53 works adopt the botanical practice of drawing different parts of the flower and its stages of growth alongside a larger drawing of the flower, or mushroom, in the case of Maria Wansink’s watercolour, Agaricus muscarius. Wansink’s watercolour of the infamous, white-spotted red mushroom (technically a toadstool), intersperses pale parts of this genus between bright red, whole specimens: one bulbous and the other umbrella-like in form. Clumps of earth clings to the toadstools’ root systems, while the veil of one appears light enough to sway out from the stipe or stalk.

Open daily from 10-4pm until December 4.

Untitled, Dunedin Landscape May 2020, by Jay 
Hutchinson
Untitled, Dunedin Landscape May 2020, by Jay Hutchinson

"Untitled, Dunedin Landscape May 2020",

Jay Hutchinson

(Olga Gallery)

JAY Hutchinson’s current exhibition at Olga is the most conceptually rigorous by the artist that I have personally seen to date. It also represents a departure of sorts from the gallery’s regular programming, and pushes against the expectations of dealer gallery exhibitions more generally — in this corner of the world at least. These prefatory remarks are, of course, consistent with conceptual art projects in the sense that they often require more contextual foregrounding to assist viewers not familiar with the artist’s work. This contextualisation itself can be problematic from the perspective of the viewer who may want to approach the exhibition without an "explanation" (there will be those who have this experience), and from the position of the reviewer, who can be similarly wary of providing information in a way that may undercut the apparent inscrutability of the exhibition. The issue here is: how much to give away?

Notice, if you will, the trails of red brick dust that have plumed down from the masonry screws on the white wall and have caught on remnants of filler from previous exhibitions. Look at the arrangement of screws and nails themselves. Refer to the title: is this what the city looked like in May? Are the upright ladder and the rubbish on the floor part of the exhibition? Has the artist worked with rubbish in the past? Is that a rubbish bag in the corner?

A scene from Christopher Ulutupu’s Into the Arms of my 
Coloniser.
A scene from Christopher Ulutupu’s Into the Arms of my Coloniser.

"Into the Arms of my Coloniser",

Christopher Ulutupu

(DPAG Rear Window)

THE title of Christopher Ulutupu’s video work, Into the Arms of my Coloniser (2016) acknowledges and points towards the inherent ambiguity, even risk, of how an artwork exploring race, gender and sexuality can reinscribe the very otherness it is attempting to challenge or overcome. Ulutupu, who is of Samoan, Niuean and German descent, quite literally alerts the viewer to the slipperiness of this terrain with the intermittent presence of two well-oiled, topless, male body builders. Other signifiers of how difficult it is to not run into the arms of the coloniser include the sand-covered stage, a lone palm tree, a monitor typically screening stereotypical scenes of idyllic island beaches, and a cast of characters who appear together in some segments, but do not acknowledge each other. Everyone, it seems, is wrapped up in their own worlds.

Ulutupu’s 16-minute video work is divided into seven vignettes, or chapters, separated by inter-titles that indicate the theme of each vignette with a short quotation. Each vignette takes place on the fake-sand beach at night, and the loosely interconnected cast includes the body builders, three Pacific Island singers, a Palagi couple, a family, a giant white rabbit (soft toy) and minimal props. All are young and attractive, but the performativity — the nature of each character’s performance of identity — is variously enacted. Some performances, such as the oiled body builders, amplify the complex mix of stereotypes, expectations, and co-construction of identities.

Robyn Maree Pickens

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